Hello, friends. If you made it here without any malware warnings, breathe a sigh of relief.
As is the yearly tradition, I hope all of you were “Down with the Christmas” this week, no matter what festive holiday you celebrated:
Stream: The Paybacks – “Down with the Christmas” (3:55)
Similar to my entry last year (save for removing the EPs section), I’m going to split this entry between what I’ve called “The Jom Expansion Pack” (i.e., 25 albums that missed my Top 25 for whatever reason, likely because they’re solid albums that I spent an appreciable amount of time listening to again and again, but exhibit some quality that justifies their placement in the Expansion Pack, and/or I totally missed an album or two (or five… or more) albums by a nautical mile and heard them way too late in the year to give them ample consideration for the staff year-end feature).
In the Expansion Pack, the albums are in alphabetical order by artist name — if I tried to organize this into a Top 50, it’d be 2017 by the time I figured it out (given my typical output, anyway). When cultivating the Jom Expansion Pack, I tried to not pick albums that already appeared on the Staffers’ Favorite 50 Albums of 2014, but as you’ll note, there are a couple exceptions to that rule.
As far as my personal Top 25 is concerned, I have a strict list of completely arbitrary protocol and rationale for why albums are where they are, and it would do everybody a favor if I didn’t have to explain my whimsical logic.
I know I missed a ton of records, but truth be told, it’s because I didn’t get a chance to listen to them. These include Swans, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Aphex Twin (whoops), Morbus Chron, Dead Congregation, and Sharon Van Etten. What else do I need to catch up on? Please let me know in the comments.
Last but not least: I wish you all good luck, good health, and continued good times in 2015!
The Jom Expansion Pack
Clocking in at just under 2 hours, 24 (out of 25 — not bad!) songs from the Expansion Pack are available on Spotify for your streaming pleasure:
A Winged Victory for the Sullen
Optional reading: Adam Wiltzie (Stars of the Lid) and pianist/composer Dustin O’Halloran (Dévics, various film scores) return under the A Winged Victory for the Sullen moniker, this time with more electronic flourishes and tighter-knit composition than what we heard with their 2011 self-titled record. Despite the autumn release date, the album – particularly its latter half – evokes images of soothing springtime. The big mystery, though? Where did ‘IV’ go? See also: “Atomos I”.
Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties
We Don’t Have Each Other
Optional reading: One of Dan “Soupy” Campbell’s (The Wonder Years) calling cards is his knack for vivid storytelling, whether it’s told from a first- or third-person point-of-view. With We Don’t Have Each Other, Soupy masterfully crafts the Aaron West compeer across 9 frequently-gorgeous tracks, with a Mountain Goats cover rounding out the proceedings. There are times where the alt-country embellishments weren’t my cup of tea, but I’m still wont to gush about this record’s lyrical creativity. See also: “Get Me Out of Here Alive”.
Listen if you like: FKA twigs, Broods, Jessie Ware
Optional reading: It’s only fair to direct you here. See also: “Waiting Game”.
Listen if you like: Belphegor, Hate, Vader
Optional reading: I wrote a blurb for this record for the staff’s favorite/Top Favorite 50 Albums of 2014, which you can read here. See also: “O God O Satan O Son”.
Eighteen Hours of Static
Listen if you like: The Jesus Lizard, Eagulls, early Pavement
Optional reading: Raw and raucous throughout its 27-minute duration, Eighteen Hours of Static infuses some finer elements of noise rock, post-hardcore, and [slower-paced] math rock. Combined with perpetually pessimistic frontman Joe Galarraga shouting and snarling along the way (“Everybody says that it’s getting better all the time / But it’s still bad / It’s still bad!”), Big Ups’ debut album is a fun and rewarding listen. See also: “Goes Black” (video here).
If There’s a Hell Below
Listen if you like: Elzhi, Guilty Simpson, Danny Brown
Optional reading: Typically revered for his skill as a producer, there’s an observable improvement between If There’s a Hell Below and No Poison No Paradise, the latter being an excellent album in its own right. There’s a bevvy of soul seeping into every corner of its foundation, and the dark, brooding beats further augment Black Milk’s (and his guest artists’) performance(s). See also: “Leave the Bones Behind” f/ Blu and Ab.
Death from Above 1979
The Physical World
Listen if you like: Japandroids, Royal Blood, The Faint
Optional reading: I understand that this might be a bit of a contrarian pick, but you try making an album with the only other guy in your band after not speaking to him for nearly a decade! Detractors have taken aim at how polished and melodic The Physical World is compared to 2004’s You’re a Woman…, but I’m not convinced that that’s all that much of a surprise. See also: “Trainwreck 1979”.
Listen if you like: Further Seems Forever, Lifetime, Hot Rod Circuit
Optional reading: Wistful nostalgia for those wanting to be transported back to the 2000s. See also: “Clear Skies, Full Sails”.
Listen if you like: Jono McCleery, Bonobo, Ben Howard
Optional reading: Please feel free to have a look at our 3rd Quarter Mixtape here. See also: “Shakespeare”.
Guillaume Perret & The Electric Epic
Listen if you like: John Zorn, Cosa Brava, Weather Report
Optional reading: Imagine your pedalboard being hooked up to an electric saxophone rather than to your guitar, and mix that with a virtuoso backing band — Open Me is chock-full of truly rollicking material that doesn’t sacrifice character or melody within its technicality. See also: “Shoebox” (sample video here).
Hail Spirit Noir
Listen if you like: Dodecahedron, Transcending Bizarre?, Ikuinen Kaamos
Optional reading: I wrote about this album in our 1st Quarter Mixtape here. See also: “Satan is Time”.
A Never-Ending Cycle of Atonement
Listen if you like: Fallujah, Archspire, Deeds of Flesh
Optional reading: To the unaccustomed ear (yes, I admit to falling in this camp more than others), this is a bit of a challenging listen (the album has an intriguing, overarching story — if not a bit byzantine — but the vocals are compressed to hell — I needed the book on more than one occasion), but with repeated listens, it’s well worth your time. The clean breaks here-and-there (such as the major one in “Staring Through Fire”) are welcome, but don’t let that (or the album art) fool you: this is a punishingly brutal, technical metal record. See also: “Bioluminescent Photophores”.
Shadows of the Dying Sun
Listen if you like: Be’lakor, Dark Tranquillity, Amorphis
Optional reading: Kyle’s review reflects my thoughts, but in sum: Shadows of the Dying Sun does cherry-pick their back catalogue a bit more than I’d prefer, but the diversity in sound — from the trademark melodeath to the even-heavier epic sections to the darker, Katatonia-like ornamentation — is wonderfully appealing. The atmosphere is stunning in spots, too, which is a testament of how fantastic the production is on the album; however, you’re better served listening to it through headphones. See also: “The River”.
Listen if you like: Explosions in the Sky, ISIS the band (not the terrorists), Kerretta
Optional reading: Severe hand and wrist injuries plagued the New Zealand trio for several years, which helps explain the 8-year gap between albums. Sure, the band were busy with other projects in the meantime, but Sines is such a beautifully hypnotizing and welcome return-to-form. Truly cinematic. See also: “Blind Them With Science” (official video here).
When Dreams Become Nightmares
Listen if you like: The Gathering, Manes, Helalyn Flowers
Optional reading: Featuring Tor-Helge Skei/Cernunus (Manes) and Anna Murphy (Eluveitie), When Dreams Become Nightmares is the duo’s first LP under the Lethe sobriquet, and it’s an experimental smorgasbord of trip-hop, gothic rock, industrial, and electronic music. No two songs sound similar, which might be explained, in part, by the varied spoken-word samples interspersed throughout the record. Although there’s no Celtic flair a la Eluveitie here (Anneke van Giersbergen immediately comes to mind), Ms. Murphy’s vocal prowess truly shines throughout the record. See also: “Come Look at the Darkness With Me”.
Listen if you like: Fleetwood Mac, Old 97’s, Nikki Lane
Optional reading: Originally, I was ultra-resistant to listening to this (uni girlfriend listened to nothing but country, and I was a city boy born and raised in South Detroit~~), but if you can envision Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie coalesced into a punk/country/blues starlet, you’d be headed in the right direction. Loveless has a gorgeous croon, but her backing band is not without their merits, either. See also: her NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert.
In a Mirror Darkly
Listen if you like: Anacrusis, Watchtower, Sanctuary
Optional reading: When this album was pitched to me to have a listen to (see Voivod’s sterling review here), I had a bit of a giggle looking at that album art (I mean, just look at that silly font) — and I’m no Photoshop expert. Integrate “Looks can be deceiving” with “Don’t judge [an album] by its cover” and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the twists and turns this prog/thrash + classical music hybrid offers. See also: “Hindsight Bias”.
Stream: “Calmness At Stress” (08:24)
Listen if you like: Vàli, Musk Ox, Erde
Optional reading: There’s a great write-up about this Iranian dark folk outfit in our 3rd Quarter Mixtape here.
Optional reading: Anne-Marie Helder has an amazing and versatile voice; her performance is justifiably front-and-center, her airy voice fluttering light as a feather. However, the keyboards (courtesy of Jonathan Edwards) and the guitars (from newcomer Adam O’Sullivan) are quite exquisite, too, as the music ebbs and flows between lounge-like jazz to an over-arching progressive pop persuasion, with plenty more in-between. See also: “All That We Are”.
Youth Culture Forever
Listen if you like: Cheatahs, Dinosaur Jr., Milk Maid
Optional reading: See also: “Tongues” (probably my favorite song on the album — video here. SPOILER: lots of makeouts!)
Under Color of Official Right
Listen if you like: The Fall, Iceage, Parquet Courts
Optional reading: Anything but a sophomore slump from this Detroit-area post-punk outfit; vocalist Joe Casey’s near-deadpan simply adds to the album’s charm amidst the noisy, garage-tilted guitars. See also: “Maidenhead”.
Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels 2
Optional reading: The turn-around time on this album was mind-blowing. The expected drop-off in quality? Non-existent. The guest spots? For the most part, pretty awesome. The hooks, beats, and dynamics are hard-hitting and intense, which makes us all wonder what the third installment will compare to the first two. See also: “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”.
Love of Cartography
Listen if you like: 65daysofstatic, Caspian, Beware of Safety
Optional reading: I disliked all the electronic curlicues at first (those are probably best left to 65daysofstatic), but they grew on me after a while. The album’s heavier sections are particularly divine. See also: “Emergent”.
The Gaslight Anthem
Listen if you like: Tom Petty, The Menzingers, The Loved Ones
Optional reading: I wrote a review for this record here. See also: “Halloween”.
This Will Destroy You
Listen if you like: Mono, If These Trees Could Talk, Yndi Halda
Optional reading: Delightfully expanding on the intense crescendos and ethereal ambiance found in Tunnel Blanket but with a bit more imagination in the songwriting, Another Language is a superb addition to This Will Destroy You’s discography. See also: “Memory Loss”.
Jom’s Favorite 25 Albums of 2014
Alright, the moment approximately 11 (plus-or-minus 4) of you have been waiting for! Again, I have a strict list of completely arbitrary protocol and rationale for why albums are where they are, and it would do everybody a favor if I didn’t have to explain my whimsical logic.
Below is a Spotify playlist of 22 out of 25 songs (again clocking in at just under 2 hours) from my favorite albums from 2014:
25. Moonlit Sailor
We Come from Exploding Stars
Listen if you like: Followed by Ghosts, This Patch of Sky, Mogwai
Optional reading: Arguably the happiest, most joyful post-rock you’ll hear, courtesy of these Swedish veterans. Expansive sonic architecture, gorgeous instrumentation, and an impeccable, canny ability to weave a bewitching story from start-to-finish. See also: “Skydiver”.
24. Todd Terje
It’s Album Time
Listen if you like: Lindstrøm, Prins Thomas, the Austin Powers films
Optional reading: Puts the “Yay!” in your Terje. With this funky nu-disco space throwback to the late ’60s/early ’70s, It’s Album Time somewhere. See also: “Svensk Sås”.
Listen if you like: Elderwind, Aeon Winds, Saor
Optional reading: Melodic black metal from the Netherlands with copious amounts of atmosphere amidst the tempo changes. Although the mixing is a bit rough (the bass drum is mixed superbly, but the rest of the percussion is a bit lost in the mix), Emergence was a terrific debut from this Dutch duo. See also: “I Am the Abyss”.
Stream: “Amazing Science Facts” (4:35)
Listen if you like: King Hobo, Five Horse Johnson, Clutch
21. Pianos Become the Teeth
Listen if you like: Touché Amoré, The Saddest Landscape, La Dispute
Optional reading: I wrote a blurb for this album in the 1st Quarter Mixtape here. See also: “Say Nothing”.
20. Words of Farewell
The Black Wild Yonder
Listen if you like: Heaven Shall Burn, In Mourning, Damage Done-era Dark Tranquillity
Optional reading: A German interpretation of the Gothenburg sound, this is the album that In Flames and At the Gates could have made (not that there was anything wrong with their records, per se… well, okay, yes, there was the significant issue of them being banal), but alas, perhaps the change in creative arc is a one-and-done deal (but likely not). In short: The Black Wild Yonder is an album not to miss for a fresh take on the “old-school” melodic death metal sound. See also: “Temporary Loss of Reason”.
19. The Menzingers
Listen if you like: The Lawrence Arms, Banner Pilot, Captain, We’re Sinking
Optional reading: Channing wrote a laudable review here. See also: “Transient Love”.
18. St. Vincent
Listen if you like: tUnE-yArDs, Beach House, Dirty Projectors
Optional reading: Although it took me a bit to wrap my ears around Ms. Clark’s idiosyncrasies on this record compared to her past works (which were definitely quirky; admittedly, though, I’m still struggling with the appeal of “Bring Me Your Loves”… but perhaps it’s best to not try to ‘figure it out’), I adore how upbeat and catchy this album is. Perhaps some of the stranger quirks are influenced by her work with David Byrne, especially after their collaboration on Love This Giant. See also: “Birth in Reverse”.
17. Lunatic Soul
Walking on a Flashlight Beam
Listen if you like: Library Tapes, Steven Wilson, Sigur Rós
Optional reading: Darker than his previous albums, Walking on a Flashlight Beam sports layers upon layers upon layers of stunning electronic/ambient atmosphere. The crescendo and climax to “Shutting Out the Sun” is one of my favorite moments on this record, and the bass in “Gutter” is magnificent. See also: “Shutting Out the Sun”.
16. The War on Drugs
Lost in the Dream
Listen if you like: Wilco, Arcade Fire, Spoon
Optional reading: There’s a bit more reverb here than I’d prefer, and some of the songs drag on a bit long, but Lost in the Dream is a truly captivating record, even for those who don’t prefer “beer commercial lead-guitar shit”. See also: “An Ocean In Between the Waves”.
In Humor and Sadness
Listen if you like: The Chariot, Feed the Rhino, Nirvana
Optional reading: The chaotic, free-form structure of this record is memorable on multiple levels, combining copious amounts of post-hardcore, noise/grunge/garage rock, and indie leanings. There’s discernible In Utero and Bleach influence here, too, and Josh Scogin (The Chariot, Norma Jean) and Michael McClellan (formerly of Becoming the Archetype) deliver the vitriol and pandemonium in spades. See also: “Track 3 g”.
14. Sage Francis
Listen if you like: Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, Brother Ali
Optional reading: I wrote about this album in our 2nd Quarter Mixtape here. See also: “Dead Man’s Float”.
Hymns for the Broken
Stream: “A New Dawn” (04:35)
Listen if you like: Threshold, Vanden Plas, Circus Maximus
Optional reading: I wrote a short blurb about this album in our 3rd Quarter Mixtape here. See also: “The Grand Collapse”.
12. Hilltop Hoods
Walking Under Stars
Listen if you like: pretty much any artist signed to Golden Era Records
Optional reading: Please have a look at my review for this record here. See also: “Cosby Sweater”.
11. Sonata Arctica
Listen if you like: Edguy, Stratovarius, Blind Guardian
Optional reading: I wrote a review for this record, which is available here. See also: “‘X’ Marks the Spot”.
10. Major Parkinson
Listen if you like: Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Diablo Swing Orchestra, Mr. Bungle
Optional reading: I wrote about this album in our 1st Quarter Mixtape here. See also: “Black River”.
9. Ne Obliviscaris
Listen if you like: Opeth, Beyond Creation, Solefald
Optional reading: Check out my blurb for this record in the Staffers’ Favorite 50 Albums of 2014 feature. See also: “Pyrrhic”.
Listen if you like: Red Sparowes, God is an Astronaut, I Hear Sirens
Optional reading: As I’m sure you’ve noted, I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of post-rock this year, so it might seem like a bit of a surprise to have Maybeshewill in my top ten considering how the record’s received some tepid reviews. Matt Daly (piano) does a beautiful job on this record, eclipsing the already-radiant work he did on I Was Here for a Moment, Then I Was Gone. While not my favorite Maybeshewill record, I feel the band are starting to secure their niche with these softer, broad-brushstroke cinematic scores. See also: “In Amber”.
7. Flying Lotus
Listen if you like: J Dilla, The Gaslamp Killer, Shabazz Palaces
Optional reading: I doubt much more can be said about our staffers’ favorite album this year, so if you haven’t given it at least one whirl, you’re missing out on a superb electronic/jazz/hip-hop hybrid. See also: “Dead Man’s Tetris”.
6. The Hotelier
Home, Like Noplace Is There
Listen if you like: Foxing, Brand New, Brave Bird
Optional reading: Say what you will about the emo revival movement (did it ever really go away?), but this synthesis of emo, post-hardcore, and pop-punk will stand the test of time as one of the genre’s most essential listens. As ideal a starting point in the genre as any album, Home, Like Noplace is There is an album in which anyone can relate immediately. I’d wager that it will be mentioned in the same breath as Diary, American Football (alternatively, insert any ’90s Kinsella band – e.g. Cap’n Jazz – here), and Do You Know Who You Are?. See also: “Among the Wildflowers”.
5. Musk Ox
Stream: “Part II: Windswept” (10:44)
Listen if you like: Vàli, Nebelung, October Falls
Optional reading: Kyle’s blurb about this record in the Staffers’ Favorite 50 Albums of 2014 feature perfectly personifies this record, but in sum, here is the most relevant excerpt: [T]his is how this kind of instrumental folk [dark folk, chamber folk] speaks: subconsciously, to our own hearts and… minds, because within the rising buildups or the simple, warm plucking of the guitar, Musk Ox is something different to each and every listener. It is because of the fact that we are to rely on a voiceless soundscape to conjure atmosphere that we find ourselves projecting our own voice onto this canvas, making the record uniquely our own. More than any other neofolk record of the past few years, I feel that Woodfall achieves this exceedingly rare quality, one that not only tells the story that Nathanaël Larochette is giving us, but allows us to tell our own. See also: “Part 4: Above the Clouds”.
Listen if you like: Belle & Sebastian, Orcas, Frou Frou
Optional reading: This German brother/sister duo have crafted a haunting, yet delicate piece of near-dream pop bliss. Dancing synth melodies, pulsating bass lines, dynamic chamber instruments, and tons and tons of antiphony make for a seamless, effortless listen as vocalist Eva Milner floats in and out of each channel. Songs like “Rabbits on the Roof” and “Our Past” are harder-hitting despite her ethereal croons, but “Aftermath”, “Circus” and “Stones” showcase her vocal versatility. Highly, highly recommended.
Once More ‘Round the Sun
Listen if you like: Red Fang, Baroness, Kvelertak
Optional reading: Perhaps one day I’ll be able to sing and play drums at the same time (!) as amazingly as Brann Dailor does on this record, but I doubt it. This is also arguably the most top-heavy album on this list (“Tread Lightly” through “Asleep in the Deep” are fantastic), although songs like “Ember City” and “Diamond in the Witch House” are close in merit (the latter being the most “old-school”-sounding Mastodon. Where The Hunter seemed like a bit of a misstep, it turns out that it helps inform Mastodon’s progression through their discography. With impeccable attention to detail, bruising riffs, and crushing grooves, Mastodon are cementing themselves as the best modern-day metal band in the world today without sacrificing their ingenuity. See also: “Asleep in the Deep”.
Listen if you like: The Appleseed Cast, Dowsing, Rika
Optional reading: Kingfisher is the quintessential summer album: anthemic, sing-along choruses, immediately relatable lyrics, and a delightful merger of emo ethos and post-rock spirit. Topshelf Records are quietly becoming one of my favorite labels, and this New Jersey quintet skillfully incorporate shimmering guitars, bright horns, and increasingly memorable melodies throughout their 10-track sophomore effort. See also: “Glass, Irony”.
Bloom & Breathe
Listen if you like: Moving Mountains, Thrice, Magnetic North-era Hopesfall
Optional reading: Without question, this is my favorite album of 2014. After hearing their previous EPs (The Sun Will Rise and Lead Me Home and You Are All You Have to Fear), I was floored at how much guitarist/vocalist Kevin Dye’s vocals have improved. His tone and timbre are stellar. The instrumentation, though, is hypnotic, with absolutely sublime soundscapes overarching from aptly-named bookends “Everything That Has Ever Been” to “Everything That Always Will Be”. The effect-laden lead guitars are a clear highlight, and the rhythm section is well-organized and integrated into the songs’ fabric. The three-guitar construction allows for the band to span multiple octaves, but it’s more majestic and triumphant more than it is an onslaught (although the record is not without its heavy-hitting sections). Drummer Dan Crapanzano writes some striking fills as well, especially in songs like “Persist in Delusion” and “Born Dead” (whose outro gang vocal is one of my favorite passages on the record). Epic without the excess, Bloom & Breathe is an extraordinary album and one that you cannot afford to miss. See also: “Born Dead”.
Prediction Contest Prizes + In Conclusion…
In case anybody missed my post about the prizes, here they are below:
For the lazy: 2 Gates t-shirts, a Bloom & Breathe poster, Bloom & Breathe CD, Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead! CD, Katatonia’s Last Fair Day Gone Night CD/DVD, Dream Theater’s Breaking the Fourth Wall: Live from the Boston Opera House blu-ray, and a set of Sennheiser headphones.
I received over 80 submissions, and thank you goes to all of you who participated. Your gold winner (see above) is Koffiiing, who narrowly edged out wtferrothorn (awarded the Silver prize: everything seen above sans Sennheisers) and johnnyblaze (Bronze winner: Gates swag + You’re Dead!).
A HUGE THANK YOU goes out to Pure Noise Records, who hooked me up extra T-shirts for the giveaways.
If you made it this far, I apologize if this read like crap — I’ve been battling the flu and it’s not been a fun time.
As always, I appreciate you reading this and for being here on the site. I’m hopeful for more stable and regular involvement from our owner and that the many bug fixes and problems we’ve been having get rectified soon.
Talk to you all soon, and at my first available opportunity (AKA as soon as I stop sucking down Pepto-Bismol and NyQuil):